I heard a song with "I - bVI - bIII - bVII" and It's one of my favorite progression. So I want to know about that progression.

  • 3
    Is your I chord minor or major? So Roman numeral systems use i lower case for minor, others don't. – Michael Curtis Jun 10 '19 at 20:33

There isn't a name for this specific progression, but it might make sense to call it a circle of fifths turnaround. Let's assume you're in C; this would make the progression:

| C Maj | A♭Maj | E♭Maj | B♭Maj |

Here are some things that make the progression interesting:

  • the change from major tonality (in measure 1) minor tonality (in measures 2-4)
  • measures 2 - 4 follow the circle of fifths
  • upon repeating the progression, going from B♭Maj to CMaj is a nice parallel movement

The term 'circle of fifths turnaround' might make sense given that turnarounds are typically short, repeatable progressions that lead back to the I chord. And the use of the circle of fifths is a key feature of the progression.

Separately, the reason ♭VII to I sounds good is that ♭VII has the 2nd and 4th scale degrees of the I chord, which draw the ear toward the 1 and 3 of the I chord.

  • 1
    The thing that jumped out to me was that the tonic E♭ actually has less chromaticism with the same chords. Not surprising, since the progression is diatonic to C minor, except for the C major triad at the start. I think viewers might even start to hear the progression as C minor or E♭major with a little surprise twist on the C chords... Of course, context is everything. – user45266 Jun 11 '19 at 3:44
  • @user45266, agreed! Treating E♭ as the tonic is an interesting take I hadn't considered. This makes the progression | VI | IV | I | V |. V → VI would require some finesse to solo over. If we go this route, then my ear wants to hear the CMaj chord more as C7alt. This is totally possible given the current info from the OP. As you say, context matters. For example, if the CMaj chord isn't voiced with a 7th, then it may very well function as a VI7alt. But if the CMaj is voiced with a major 7th, then the first chord is less diatonic & sticks out more. Of course, that doesn't mean it's 'wrong'! – jdjazz Jun 11 '19 at 16:02

It’s likely you mean the I is minor, thus i-, bVI, bIII, bVII. This is a very popular progression (turnaround) in disguise.

It is the same as vi, IV, I, V when you make the bIII the I.

For example, the progression for the verses of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love?” is F#-, D, A, E.

The key signature has three sharps which could make the song either in F# minor (as indicated by the first chord in the progression) or A Major.

If we agree that the song is in F#- then the progression is i-, bVI, bIII, bVII.

However, if we look at it from the relative major, which is A Major, then the progression is vi, IV, I, V.

Progression = F#-, D, A, E

In F# minor = i-, bVI, bIII, bVII

In A Major = vi, IV, I, V

Same song, same progression, just a different perspective.

We usually look at progressions from the perspective of the relative Major key, hence vi, IV, I, V is popular and the more common way to view. However, it’s equally valid to understand it from its minor perspective, hence i-, bVI, bIII, bVII. enter image description here

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